Keynoter at PCCCA/PYWA conference says different perspectives on stories help us shape our story
by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — In elementary school, Natarsha Sanders’ favorite story was The Three Little Pigs. But then she heard the story from the perspective of the Big Bad Wolf.
“It threw me for a loop,” she said, “because now I had to figure out what I was supposed to do with this new info.”
As the keynoter for this week’s Shaping our Story Conference played this video of the updated version of the story, she told participants this new perspective reshaped what she thought about the story.
“Different perspectives help us shape our story,” she said during the conference of the Presbyterian Church Camp and Conference Association (PCCCA) and Presbyterian Youth Workers’ Association (PYWA).
Then Sanders took camp and conference leaders, along with youth workers, into the biblical story in 2 Kings 5, where Naaman and his army had kidnapped a little girl from the land of Israel. Sanders paired the story of this girl — now a mistress to Naaman’s wife — with pictures of her nieces when they were 4, 5 and 7, so participants could see what a young girl looked like in biblical times.
‘It’s wonderful to see God again in our midst, in real time.’
“They were considered like a baby,” she said. “Girls typically married by the time they were 12. So, we’re talking about child enslavement labor.”
She then invited leaders to put themselves inside the little girl’s story: to give her names, bring her to life and resurrect her. As people shouted out names including Davita (meaning Beloved), Ruth, Mary, Precious, Perseverance and Angel, Sanders asked, “Who are you and what are you doing in the story?”
One person imagined themselves as the child’s grandmother in the land of Israel whose child had just been kidnapped. Another person talked about growing up in the village from which the girl was taken.
“We tend not to listen to or heed other perspectives, because it forces us to go back to reexamine what we thought we knew,” Sanders said. “But our responsibility is to listen to perspectives.”
For Sanders, whose work is centered on wholeness, education and racial justice, one of the more poignant moments came when she asked, “Based on the Scripture, what do we really know about the little girl?”
What she didn’t realize was there was a child in the room. The little boy raised his hand in the midst of all the adults.
As she called on him, he said, “We know that she is human, and that she is on Earth.”
‘We are underneath God’s authority.’
When Sanders focused on Naaman, who had leprosy, and went to see Elisha for healing — at the little girl’s suggestion — she talked about how youth and camp leaders have prayed to God for a fresh start. After seeing the impact of COVID-19, they’ve prayed for the opportunity to start fresh. Yet, she said in the same breath, “I hear, ‘I can’t wait for this to go back to what it was like before.’”
“We ask God to give us what we’ve asked for, yet we try to go back,” she said. “Like Naaman seeking healing, but then becoming angry because he was told to go clean himself in dirty river water to be healed.”
Sanders wants conference-goers at Montreat Conference Center who are used to holding power, authority and control to understand the need to submit to the authority of God. For her, anything less is missing the mark.
“We are underneath God’s authority,” Sanders said.
“If we submit that there is a greater plan that is not necessarily what we thought it was,” she said, “we say, ‘God’s resume and plan doesn’t fail.’ But what we say we know we don’t always do in practice. I want to close that gap a little bit more as a result of our time together.”
For conference worship leader the Rev. Pepa Paniagua, this message — that we are to respond to the God who is shaping our stories and is in control — has been powerful.
“Even when it’s hard, even when it doesn’t look like we want, God is still shaping us,” she said.
For the first time ever, camp and conference and youth leaders are together at one conference.
“We’re seeing how our work is similar and dependent on one another,” Paniagua said. “When new relationships and connections are formed like this, new ministries and new ways of reaching God’s people are born.”
“God is making God’s self very well know. It’s been a great week for all of us to be together again in person, in community. It’s wonderful to see God again in our midst, in real time.”
The Shaping Our Story conference, sponsored by PCCCA, PYWA and the Office of Christian Formation in the Presbyterian Mission Agency, concludes Thursday with closing worship.
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Categories: Camps and Conference Centers, Partner Associations
Tags: 2 kings 5, Montreat Conference Center, natarsha sanders, office of christian formation, presbyterian church camp and conference association, presbyterian youth workers association, Rev. Pepa Paniagua, shaping our story conference, the healing of naaman, the three little pigs
Ministries: Partner Associations, Theology, Formation & Evangelism, Office of Christian Formation, Camps and Conferences